Catching the 10PM screening of That Man From Rio at the Film Forum the other week confirmed to me why we still need movie theatres in the age of screening. Between the collective whistling at Belmondo’s face (well, who wouldn’t?) and the unidentified bottle of alcohol that was passed around the theatre, a raucous good time was had by all. And as someone who had only seen the film on VHS, the vibrant new restoration was a real treat.
The most obvious Tintin inspiration for That Man From Rio is the book The Broken Ear. The museum theft of a rare Amazonian fetish sends Tintin trekking across South America, where he encounters mayhem in the jungle and metropolis alike. The fetish statue is at the heart of That Man From Rio, resulting in a kidnapping and a mad chase across Brazil.
Another similarity to The Broken Ear is when the protagonist, facing a dangerous animal in the jungle, is saved by another European. For Tintin, this was Ridgewell, a British explorer who appears just in time to slay an approaching anaconda with a blowpipe. In That Man From Rio, the savior is an unnamed Frenchman canoeing in the river, who gleefully shoots a crocodile lunging at Adrien.
However, the Tintin references extend to other books in the series. Notice the mummified corpse in the corner of a shot of the museum in That Man From Rio; it bears a startling resemblance to the mummy of Inca king Rascar Capac in The Seven Crystal Balls.
Unlike the singular fetish of The Broken Ear, there are three statues in That Man From Rio. Each one contains a piece of a map which, when held together in the light, will reveal the location of a treasure. This was the premise of The Secret of the Unicorn, where the treasure maps were concealed in the masts of three model ships.
Part of Hergé’s talent as an illustrator was that he imagined comic strips to be like cinema, a series of shots with a multitude of possibilities for angle, scale and more. The standout drawing from Tintin in America, when Tintin slides one from windowsill to another, calls to mind Hitchcock's Vertigo. A similar scene in That Man From Rio, when Adrien slips into the room where Agnes is being held.
One of the final shots of the movie recalls Hergé’s own dark humor. The surrounding forest is destroyed during the construction of Brasilia, forcing out a bewildered local tribe. They are most probably the descendants of the ancient empire behind the hidden treasure, but in the context of industry and profit, they become totally irrelevant. In Tintin in America, the sudden discovery of oil under a town in the American West results in the expulsion of local Native Americans, while a modern metropolis is constructed within just a few days. Hergé had a knack for satirizing some of the twentieth century’s more unsavory trends such as oil lust, manic capitalism and environmental destruction, and even as a child you could see that something was very wrong with this picture - but you never stopped reading.
Tintin never had a girlfriend - the “boy reporter” was perhaps too young - so we don’t know if she would have looked like Françoise Dorléac. Shoutout to her amazing ice-blue shift dress in this movie.
Note: while looking for some images, I found this blogpost, with a similar idea! The writer found some more parallels I hadn't noticed, and then compared That Man From Rio to Indiana Jones.